After multiple tornados rocked Tennessee earlier this month, Decherd residents Bella Hartwig, 2022 USA National Miss Tennessee Teen, with friend and classmate Leah Smith, both dual enrollment students at Motlow State Community College, jumped in to collect much-needed items for victims.
“I have a friend in Dresden. He said his family is fine but several of his friends have lost everything,” said Bella. “I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to lose everything in a tornado. I felt like we needed to do something to help.”
Bella thought about the ‘Stuff the Bus’ initiatives that many schools do at the beginning of the school year to collect supplies.
“I asked my mom if there was any way we could pack a trailer in time to take to the communities in need. She said, ‘where there’s a will, there is a way!’” Bella said.
“We talked about using the horse trailer and stuffing it full,” said Tiffany Hartwig, Bella’s mom. “On Sunday night I couldn’t sleep trying to figure out where we were going to take everything. The next morning, I saw a post on Facebook from a friend, Chris Smith, Leah’s father, who was also wanting to help and also knew people who were impacted by the storm.”
Tiffany reached out to Chris, director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of the South in Sewanee, and created a partnership for his and Bella’s collection efforts. Chris and Leah found a church serving as a hub for donations, as well as feeding victims and volunteers. They agreed to work together.
Calvary Independent Baptist Church in Hornbeak agreed to distribute the items.
Bella and Leah’s efforts have collected enough items to completely fill two horse trailers and a 15-passenger van in just three days. Items collected include bottled water, non-perishable food, heaters, flashlights, lanterns, storage containers, tarps, blankets, diapers, formula, hygiene products, paper plates, and plastic eating utensils.
Word of their collection efforts spread. A thrift store is donating clothes, Duracell donated an entire pallet of batteries, and Nissan and the city of Monteagle are donating items for them to drop off at the church.
Bella is no stranger to volunteering in her community. She already has more than 600 community service hours under her belt. She even helped with cleanup efforts after the Nashville tornado a few years ago.
“I think her passion for volunteering is amazing,” said Tiffany about her daughter. “We have talked about how important it is and the wonderful feeling that comes from helping others. If you do it once, it becomes a part of your life.”
One of her favorite organizations to volunteer with is Horseplay, a therapeutic riding center for kids with disabilities. She has two sisters with Down Syndrome. Bella noted, “Growing up, I saw first-hand what it was like for kids with a disability to be excluded.”
This inspired her to start a club at Franklin County High School called “Best Buddies” that pairs students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with students without disabilities. They form one-on-one friendships and spend time with each other each month.
“I love volunteering and providing for my community. I volunteer anywhere I can help,” Bella said. “When I saw the damage done in West Tennessee, I saw a need to fill.”
Bella and Leah are also collecting monetary donations to give to the church to purchase other needed items that might be in short supply. To join the donation effort, visit https://www.facebook.com/donate/616533669470288/
Photo: Bella Hartwig, left, and Leah Smith, both dual enrollment students at Motlow State Community College, are collecting items to donate to victims of last week’s tornados. So far, they have stuffed two horse trailers and a 15-passenger van full of items to deliver to Calvary Independent Baptist Church in Hornbeak Friday, Dec. 17.